Russia’s victory in Ukraine resonates in Central Asia

Russia’s stunning victory in the battle of Avdeevka and the rout of the Ukrainian military, boosts the credibility of Russia as provider of security for the Central Asian region. The point is not lost on the erudite Central Asian mind that Russia has single-handedly put the NATO on the back foot. 

This becomes a defining moment, as it complements the comfort level stemming out of the new normalcy in Afghanistan, thanks to Russia’s effective diplomatic engagement with the Taliban.  

Yet another vicious cycle of western propaganda is petering out  — predicated on the false assumptions that Russia’s influence in Central Asia is in “decline” (Wilson Centre); that the Central Asian states are “are emerging from Russia’s shadow and asserting their independence in ways not seen since the collapse of communism in 1991” (Financial Times); that in the wake of the war in Ukraine, Central Asian leaders “might well be now considering how long Putin will be able to remain in power in Russia” (Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty). 

In reality, the economic performance of the region in 2023  registered an impressive GDP growth of 4.8%. And Russia contributed to this success story. The Ukraine war led to the vacation of western firms from the Russian market, which created new opportunities for regional states. At the same time, the conditions under sanctions prompted Russian firms and capital and Russian citizens to relocate their businesses to the Central Asian region.


However, in the final analysis, if Russia’s security relationship with the Central Asian region has transformed during the past couple of years, it is because Moscow’s coordinated efforts to forge ties with the Taliban has gained traction lately. They helped diminish the threat perceptions regarding Afghanistan in the Central Asian region. 

If the traditional pattern of addressing the threat perceptions was to resort to military means and by sequestering the region from Afghanistan, Russian diplomacy switched to a radically different approach by constructively engaging with the Taliban (although Taliban continues to be a proscribed organisation under Russian law) and strove to make the latter a stakeholder in building cooperative ties within a matrix of mutual interests. It paid off.  

Moscow estimated that Taliban rule has stabilised the Afghan situation significantly and it is in Russian interests to help the Kabul administration to effectively counter the extremist elements in the country (especially the Islamic State, which is known to be a legacy of the US occupation of Afghanistan.) Russia leveraged its influence with the Central Asian states to ensure that western-backed anti-Taliban ‘resistance’ forces did not get sanctuaries. 

Of course, the strategic objective is that the western intelligence will not be able to manipulate free-wheeling Afghan elements to destabilise the Central Asian region or the Caucasus all over again. 

Taliban has been most receptive to the Russian overtures aimed at strengthening the Afghan statehood. Recently, Taliban went to the extent of boycotting a UN-sponsored conference on Afghanistan on February 18-19 in Qatar, which was, in reality, an invidious attempt by the US to re-engage the Taliban on the pretext of promoting “intra-Afghan dialogue” (which essentially meant the return of the West’s Afghan proxies living in exile in Europe and America.) 

To be sure, the Taliban saw through the western game plan to rebuild their intelligence network in Afghanistan and countered it by setting conditions for its participation in the Doha conference, including that it be the sole representative of Afghanistan at the meeting. The Taliban also opposed the appointment of a UN special envoy to Afghanistan, whose main task would be to promote “intra-Afghan dialogue”.


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